Monday, November 16, 2009

Why not invite Indians to barbecues?

As Melbourne Lefty points out, the government's plan to invite visiting Indian students to barbecues as a gesture of welcome was axed before it was even implemented - inviting probable vegetarians to a festival of flesh eating is seen as culturally insensitive. I really can't see what the problem is here; are Indians especially sensitive little flowers?

The great Aussie barbecue is a cultural tradition. A famous tourism campaign featuring Paul Hogan even tried to entice Americans to visit Australia with the promise that we'd "slip an extra shrimp on the barby for you." On any given weekend there would be literally thousands of barbecues right across Australia.

The food - yes, plenty of meat - is not what's important about barbecues, however. Barbecues are a social ritual. The men stand around drinking beer and chatting while their host cooks the meat. The joke-teller of the group - every group of males has one - will tell the latest off-colour jokes making the rounds. Politics will be discussed at least in passing - what's the deal with that Oceanic Viking mess? Depending on the crowd and the time of year sports will probably be discussed. Bogans will argue about the virtues of Holdens and Fords, the more affluent perhaps talking about BMWs and Audis. But the topics aren't really important; it's a male bonding activity.

Meanwhile the women will be drinking wine (premixed bourbon and cola for boganettes) and talking about whatever it is women talk about. I'm guessing how useless men are (he never does the vacuuming) and gossip about women outside the group (Joan is really stacking on the weight) might feature prominently. The hostess will several times venture out to the cooking area to pass around some premeal snacks, check on the progress of the chef and to disrupt whatever nonsense it is the men are talking - those dirty jokes are pathetic.

If timed properly the cooking process will take long enough for everyone to be in a very pleasant state of alcohol-induced merriment. The food will be praised but the food isn't really important; socialising is the real purpose of the event. Barbecues are also a great way to both meet new people and welcome new people.

But Indian vegetarians shouldn't be invited to barbecues. Why? Will meat eating by others offend them? Will they refuse to attend barbecues for the duration of their stay in Australia thus excluding themselves from a significant social ritual? Gee, that'll help them fit right in.

If I travelled to India and was invited to dine with the locals I'd expect my hosts to serve up a traditional meal. I'd be honoured at being invited to participate in a social experience. If served something that I didn't want to eat I have to decide on the spot whether to chance offending my host or be a good guest and eat the food. I would not be offended if served a traditional dish spicy enough to double as varnish stripper. I do draw the line at eating anything that goes through a pupal stage as part of its lifecycle, however. If served such a dish I'd have to respectfully decline to partake. Hopefully my host would understand.

I assume that any Indian student would be equally delighted to attend a traditional Aussie barbecue, you know, to experience the local lifestyle. There's usually plenty of potato salad, coleslaw and leafy salads at barbies anyway so it's not like a vegetarian guest is going to starve and with a bit of planning plenty of non-meat dishes can be provided.

This barby kerfuffle is political correctness gone way too far. Indian students should be invited to barbecues so they can get to know us and see how we live. Any Indian who can't fit in at a barbecue is going to find living in Australia a real challenge.

Update: An Indian Australian has some vegetarian barbecue suggestions.


Anonymous Dan Lewis said...

I do draw the line at eating anything that goes through a pupal stage as part of its lifecycle



A good argument, JF. Nearly all (cough) religions don't seem to get offended by what others do.

8:23 AM  

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